What started as an innocent sushi meal for one Santa Barbara resident turned into something far worse: a bout with anisakiasis, a parasitic infection that nearly killed her and made her unique as the first person in the country to ever contract this disease.
The infection nearly killed Alana Tillim, owner of Santa Barbara Dance Arts, and required the removal of her colon and part of her intestines for treatment in 2002.
After spending two weeks in the hospital and dropping to 85 pounds, Tillim survived, and will be dramatically reenacting her ordeal Wednesday at 10 p.m. on Animal Planet for the show Monsters Inside Me.
“As the very first person in the U.S. to get this, I was sort of a case study,” said Tillim, who is now completely healthy after fighting complications from the parasite in 2004.
The infection was caused by anisakis simplex, a parasite that usually resides in the stomachs of marine animals but can be transmitted to humans who eat undercooked seafood, according to information from the Center For Disease Control and Prevention.
In Tillim’s case, the mass that was removed from her digestive system was a combination of the parasite, which was about a centimeter long, and the cells used by her body to fight the infection.
“The real message is that this can happen to anyone, anywhere,” Tillim said.